HomeOpinion & AnalysisThe globalised world and the nation State

The globalised world and the nation State

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by Eddie Cross
WE live in a world that is increasingly interconnected. Barely a hundred years ago, the airplane had not yet found its wings. When something happened in far distant places, it was days before we heard about it. Now everything happens in real time and we can travel the world in hours and days. When I was a teenager I had to go to a cinema to see black and white film clips on world events in “News Reels”, now world events appear on my cellphone and if I turn on my television set I will see news from across the world.

The technology revolution that is well underway is changing every aspect of life and emphasising that we are, all of us, interconnected and interdependent. Just take the war in Ukraine and how this has changed the lives of the whole world. Energy costs have risen. I had little idea of just how important Ukraine was in the food industry but I see the reality on the shelves of my supermarket where last year 25% of every loaf of bread was sourced in the Ukraine.

This is a world where human migration has always been an issue, we are all migrants from somewhere else. But it is the scale of migration today that is changing the face of the world. Hundreds of millions of people from everywhere are on the move, voting with their feet when they cannot change the situation where they were born.

Then there is the ubiquitous dissemination of news and views. Gone are the days when the editors of our main newspapers set the agenda and whose editorials could shake the world as we know it. Today everyone lives in a bubble where instantaneous communication across the globe is cheap and available. WhatsApp, a system I use in preference to other networks, carries 100 billion messages everyday. That is about 15 messages everyday for every human on earth. Attempts by autocrats and demagogues to control information dissemination are just laughable in such a situation. And there is more to come.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic also showed how interconnected the world has become. When this highly infectious disease emerged in China, in a matter of days it was across the world. Before we knew it was a problem, millions were infected. The next thing that happened was that our ill-considered efforts to halt the spread of the infection in our different countries dislocated the transport infrastructure that delivered goods across the oceans and disrupted air travel. Suddenly, we understood how dependent we had become on each other. Factories in one country on the other side of the globe halted operations because a tiny component, manufactured elsewhere, was not available.

The result — slower growth, higher inflation and shortages. Who could ever imagine the greatest free market economy on earth in the US running out of baby food? Shipping costs have soared along with the cost of a myriad of commodities.

In this environment, what relevance is the nation State? The 200 odd countries that make up the global community of nations are the product of centuries of conflict. Wars, colonial occupation and subordination and the pursuit of wealth have created these strange geographical entities. We protect our boundaries, even go to war over differences such as the colonial boundary between Ethiopia and Eritrea. But the reality is that boundaries have never had less importance in our daily lives.

I can recall a time when here in Zimbabwe we had some 500 000 people a year fleeing for greener pastures. I watched as they crossed the Limpopo into South Africa in their thousands everyday. No passports — just a determination to go somewhere else where conditions were a bit better. I sponsored a girl through university only to see her graduate, come and say goodbye and emerge six months later in London. How she got there and what her new status was, I have no idea.

Still, despite all of this nationalism still has its place. In fact, I would argue that without a measure of nationalistic pride and commitment countries, will have much more difficulty in making their way in this competitive world. Americans hang flags outside their homes and stand to sing the national anthem. Chinese business cadres know exactly what they have to do when they go abroad to seek opportunity. We all know and respect the Japanese for their character and culture.

In the Third World, this sense of national pride is often missing. Young people who go abroad find themselves living and working in strange countries and often have no sense of who they are. The late former President Robert Mugabe once referred to them as people without a totem. The totem being a symbol of who they are, which clan and family they belong to and even a sense of wider identity. I see this new generation growing up in independent Zimbabwe, smart, well-educated, often wealthy, but in many cases they do not speak any local language and regard their rural home as primitive and dirty.

Often these youngsters adopt the worst characteristics of their adopted culture, music, hair styles, clothing and even language. They feel that their home environment is no longer acceptable and try to adopt the cultures of the people among whom they live and work with.

My own son spoke to me about this after he had travelled to the United States for the first time. He asked why do we not have any sense of nationalism and pride in who we are? How could I answer him?  In my own lifespan I have seen Rhodesian nationalism drag us into civil and regional wars, I have seen African nationalism destroy communities and even countries. Yet it remains important that we are proud of who we are and where we live and work and have our being. I am proud to be a white African of European descent. I am nationalistic when it comes to national
matters.

On May 25, we celebrated Africa Day across the continent and remembered just where we have all come from. In the US they are nearly all migrants from various parts of the world, but once they take the oath of allegiance and get citizenship, they are Americans first. I look forward to the day when that will be true of those of us who are Africans by citizenship and choice.

  • Eddie Cross is an economist and former Bulawayo South legislator. He writes here in his personal capacity

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